gershon hepner

(5 3 38 / leipzig)

what hitler read


Tendentious paperbacks can harm as much
as esoteric books with covers that are hard,
and break the spine of those who clasp and clutch
ideas that that clash with common sense and should be barred
from discourse of all men for whom civil-
ity provides the rationale of all engage-
ment with the text. We know that words can kill,
and therefore should pay close attention to each page
a person reads. Although its ideas may
seem laughable, they may be implemented after
they’ve been absorbed. We notice what men say,
but pages that they read should not evoke our laughter,
but our concern. What Hitler read became
the laws of Nuremberg, and books that Muslims read,
containing texts that aim to damage and defame,
provide not only for their ancient creed
criteria that help them distinguish good
from evil, categories themselves most problematic,
but programs that suggest their readers should,
like books they read, be kept in a genizah attic.

Anthony Grafton reviews Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life by Timothy W. Ryback in “Mein Buch, ” TNR, December 24,2008:
Hitler read, in other words, as he talked: not to uncover new facts or ideas but to validate what he already thought. That explains why he carefully went through an edition of the scholarly anti-Semite Paul Lagarde's German Essays, printed as late as 1934 by J.F. Lehmann, as well as several of the famous works on racial types by Hans F.K. Günther, known as 'Rassengünther, ' a professor at Jena and one of the founders of German racial science and legislation, also published by Lehmann. These texts told Hitler nothing that he did not already know. Hitler did not need Rassengünther to show him what Jews looked like, or Lagarde to tell him that Germany could never assimilate its Jews, or to recommend that they be transplanted to Palestine, or to caution him that the Jews, formed by the Talmud, were too tough for Germans to oppose-or to condemn the particular offenses that Jews committed against German identity, as when they 'lay claim to the honorable German name while constructing the most sacred sites one has in a Moorish style in order not to forget that one is a Semite, an Asian, a foreigner.' He had long since drawn his own conclusions about the New Synagogue in the Oranienburgerstrasse and its congregation.
Still, the bent pages and the flexible spines of these books indicate that Hitler read them often. In them, Ryback shows, 'we can observe the application of Hitler's reading technique in all its selective intensity'-watch his pencil, following his eye across the page, underlining passages, entering occasional exclamation points and question marks, above all drawing the lines that marked stones useable for his mosaics. The new position of the reader made his books yield something they had not provided before. In 1934-1935, Hitler was head of state and possessed dictatorial powers. Reading as a leader, a ruler, he found in Günther's familiar images and Lagarde's familiar sentiments not the elements of a political program but the beginnings of a public policy. 'A penciled mark can become state doctrine': Hitler's penciled marks became part of the Nuremberg Laws, promulgated in September 1935….
In a long chapter, Ryback describes the surviving esoteric and spiritualist volumes that formed a substantial part of Hitler's collection: works by thinkers now forgotten, such as Ernst Schertel and Maximilian Riedel. They offered elaborate analyses and complex charts of the relation between mind and spirit. More striking, they celebrated those individuals of 'imaginative power, ' who could concentrate their spirits and conceive 'explosive, dynamite-like' ideas that had the impact of an avalanche: ideas so powerful that they were beyond such soft, old-fashioned categories as good and evil, true and false, and could transform the world. Ryback shows that Hitler called special attention to these passages in his books. They underpinned his own sense of himself as a new man, spiritually able to call down destruction on Europe's corrupt civilization. This was the vision that Hitler revealed in part to the very civilized League of Nations high commissioner to the free city of Danzig, Carl J. Burckhardt, during the critical days of August 1939, and in whole to his generals when he ordered them, two weeks later, to invade Poland. At the core of Hitler's understanding of himself and his mission, the historian finds 'less a distillation of the philosophies of Schopenhauer or Nietzsche than a dime-store theory cobbled together from cheap, tendentious paperbacks and esoteric hardcovers.'


12/17/08

Submitted: Wednesday, December 17, 2008

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